Actors Anushka Sharma and Varun Dhawan were guests at the Express Adda in Mumbai last week.
Actors Anushka Sharma and Varun Dhawan were guests at the Express Adda in Mumbai last week. In a discussion moderated by Deputy Editor Seema Chishti, they spoke on the pressures of stardom, gender equality in the film industry and why Bollywood actors don’t speak up.
On the pressures of being in the limelight
Anushka: You can’t step out to do anything without being clicked somewhere. You feel like you’re constantly being judged. There are a lot of preconceived notions about what an actor is like. When I said before that I struggled, what I was also trying to say was that I struggled because I was trying to be something and I didn’t know what that something was. I realised after three years that I was just going to be the way I was. I’ve learned to deal with the attention and constant judgment that happens. It’s something you have to get used to when you’re a known person, especially an actor. A lot of times we’re not taken seriously.
Varun: I got positioned as an entertainer and it was difficult for me emotionally because 24/7, I have to have this smile on my face. I’m not like that off-screen. My mother keeps complaining that I only smile when I’m out. Today, with the increasing amount of media, I have people clicking my photos all the time. I don’t want that invasion of privacy. Sometimes, you’re doing three films a year, plus ads and events. I’m grateful for that but it’s easy to get burnt out in today’s day and age.
Anushka: Sometimes, we have people come up to us and they don’t ask for a picture and just talk about some film we did. I can’t tell you what that feels like. It is the biggest compliment that they don’t ask for a picture and just talk about our film. Sometimes, it’s just ‘Can I get a selfie’, and we give a selfie and it is done. A lot of journalists also openly ask about things which are not concerning our work. It’s only on that Friday that we really get to show and tell people that this is what we are living for. We only get to do that when our film is in theatres.
On breaking the mould
Anushka: There were, maybe, four films in which I played these bubbly characters and people said that this is all I do. But, even before, people started saying that I didn’t want to do them. When you’re a newcomer, you’re not offered so many roles. You can only choose out of the options you have and those were the options that I had. I wanted to do different roles and that happened only with NH10 (2015), which was the first film that I produced. The films I was doing also started changing for various other reasons. I started doing roles that were different and there started my need to constantly redefine myself as an actor.
Varun: It is not easy to do anything if you want to do it well. I’ll give you two examples. In Main Tera Hero (2014), we kept breaking the fourth wall. A lot of great actors have done it in the past. What I’m trying to do — even when I was doing masala films — is something new. Even when I was was doing masala films, I didn’t want to do the same thing that people had seen superstars in the past do. I was trying to communicate to the younger audience at that time. I like this zone and I am also trying to reach out to the masses — ‘This film is for you, too. I am your guy too’. In case of Badlapur, the story struck a chord with me. Sriram Raghavan is someone I always wanted to work with. So is Shoojit Sircar. I have gone to them and said: ‘Sir, cast me, I’ll audition, I’ll do whatever it takes to be a part of your vision’.
On women-centric films and stories
Anushka: There have been many strong female characters that have been portrayed earlier, but then there was a phase when we were doing a lot of song-and-dance kind of films. In the present times, when Raazi (2018) and Veere Di Wedding (2018) do well at the box office, there is some kind of precedence that has been set over the years for something like this to happen. The audience has become more diverse. Today, you can do a NH10 and then a popular film like Sultan (2016). People are vocal about women-centric roles now.
Varun: Whenever we discuss stars or superstars, we rank the male actors first. If we start celebrating the stardom, acting and abilities of our female actors, it’s going to take the pressure off the male actors. The more actors people watch, the better it is for the industry. We’ve had the most amount of `100-crore grossing films in 2018. That’s not only because of the male actors.
On social media and fans
Varun: I still handle my social media myself. It was very exciting when it started but, now, the medium, in fact, all mediums, have become very manipulative. It is easier to buy views, it is easier to make anything trend and everyone can see through that. But something like pure fan love is good. Like the way it happened with our film Sui Dhaga (2018) and the memes on Anushka’s character, Mamta, came up. I enjoy Insta stories the most on social media. I usually put out dance videos or music I enjoy because most of my target audience is children.
Anushka: It’s a very personal relationship that you have with social media and you should decide how it is that you want to use it. How much do you want to engage? How much you want to put your life out there? I announced getting married over there so that’s the kind of personal relationship you can have with your fans directly. But, at the same time, you are also at the receiving end of a lot of hatred, which, I think, is just not because you are an actor but because people are so quick to hate today.
On Bollywood taking a stand
Varun: We’ve seen the biggest of stars take political positions and we’ve seen what’s happened. When they land in trouble, no one helps. It only becomes a show for journalists. We don’t want to take out morchas on the streets.
Anushka: Don’t expect us to comment on everything happening in the country. As much as you’d like us to believe that people value our opinion, they don’t take us too seriously. Often, whatever we say ends up becoming a part of someone’s agenda. Instead, I will do this through my films. I will ask myself if the woman I am playing represents women correctly or is she being shown in a regressive way? I haven’t done a single item number, for example. But I don’t want to be on a political debate on TV.
Varun: It’s important to raise voice for the good. The tagline ‘Made in India’ of our film, Sui Dhaga, is an example. There isn’t anything wrong in it just because the current government supports it. Through this film, we are supporting local goods and artistes.